Reference Checks

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 14 October 2015
Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite
Issues covered:

Reference checking is an area which employers may not have included as part of their policies and procedures. Employers sometimes do not know what the best practice is in relation to giving a reference for a former employee, therefore here are some guidelines which each employer should follow.

  • Have a policy that clearly states that no employee of the business may provide any reference favourable or unfavourable about any employee to a prospective employer.
  • Designate a person within the Company to respond to all requests of a reference.
  • Make sure that all employees follow the policy and refer the calls to the designated spokesperson. 
  • If you do not put the above steps into place, individual employees may get the business into trouble.  Not only could policy violations get the company sued, but they could also get the employee who provides the information sued.
  • Limit the designated spokeperson’s comments to confirming the fact of employment (including job title) and the dates of employment.  Make sure that the explanation is provided with the confirmation that this is all that company policy allows to be disclosed in each and every case.

Employee Reference Policy

To maintain Best Practice, employers are advised to have an Employee Reference Policy in place. The Policy should address the following:

  • The legal background.
  • Data Protection Principles i.e. access requests and sensitive personal data.
  • Aims of reference
  • Examples of differences between fact and opinion.
  • Oral references
  • Contacting referees.

The Policy should be circulated throughout the Company so that anyone who may be asked to give a reference or may be asked to help prepare a reference is fully briefed of the legal implications with regards to input.

Type of References – written and oral

Here are some guidelines of what to include and not to include in a written reference:

Written Reference:

As an employer, care should be taken when giving reference in respect of employees. Do not make any reference to any aspects of employment which were not discussed with the employee.

The main aim of a reference should be confirm the facts and to provide opinions. Opinions should be based on the facts known to the employer. Employers giving reference should take reasonable steps to ensure that any reference given are accurate.

Checklist prior to providing a reference:

  • Check the employee’s personnel file.
  • Speak to daily supervisors
  • Note the difference between fact and opinion
  • Verify facts i.e. qualifications, dates of commencement, attendance record etc.
  • Substantiate opinion.

Sensitive Data

Employers should be careful never to include any “sensitive personal information” in a reference. Sensitive data includes information pertaining to an individual’s race, colour, sexual orientation, religion, political opinions, membership of a trade union, criminal record and includes medical information in relation to the employee.

In the event that an employee was absent from work on sick leave for a lengthy period, an employer may include the fact that the employee was absent for twelve weeks on sick leave, however, the employer may not disclose the illness preventing the employee from returning to work.

Oral References

If possible, we would advise employers to avoid giving oral references, as where a reference is given over the phone, an employer has little control over what is interpreted from his or her statements.  Sometimes it is unavoidable and one has to provide a reference over the phone, please adhere to the following guidelines as suggested below: 

  • Suggest to the caller that you will call them back shortly, in order to give yourself time to examine the file of the employee, or if appropriate have a discussion with the employee’s direct Supervisor.
  • Confine your comments to accurate facts – do not give your own opinion
  • Do not make statements that you would not be willing to make in writing
  • Make a note of the time and date of giving the reference, the name and job title of the caller and record a brief summary of the facts given.  This information should then be faxed or emailed to the caller to confirm the conversation and should also be placed on your previous employee’s personnel file.
This article is correct at 14/10/2015

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite

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